As I prepared to scribble some thoughts about this trip down memory lane, I spent the last few days dissecting every time the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs met in the playoffs. The great moments are memorable, the games always thrilling. We all thought that it would be Mavs-Spurs once again, as if last year wasn't enough for heart attacks and anguish.
Then, something funny happened.
The New Orleans Pelicans shook things up by beating said Spurs on Wednesday night, which threw a wrench in everything I (and probably everyone else in the basketball world) had planned. Thanks to the Pellies clinching the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and showing that the Southwest Division is the overlord of all sports divisions, Dallas will instead play the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
This is going to be fun. And this is probably the best matchup Dallas could ask for.
It'll only be the third time the Mavs and Rockets meet in the playoffs. Even more amazing than that, those first two playoff match-ups both came in the first round, with Dallas winning in four games in 1988 and an epic seven-game series in 2005 that was capped off in the most absurd of ways, if you're a Mavericks fan.
I wasn't alive the first time these two teams met. Even if you're a new Mavericks fan, you probably know all about the historic seven-game series in which Dallas won in seven games. This year? Pick any storyline you want and stick with it: Chandler Parsons faces his former team. Dwight Howard going against Dallas in the playoffs for the first time since turning them down in free agency a couple of years ago. Jason Terry gets to see what it's like coming to Dallas as the enemy. James Harden possibly coming in as the league MVP.
And, of course, above everything, CUBAN VS. MOREY STEEL CAGE MATCH TO THE DEATH.
We haven't even gotten to Game 1, and there's already plenty to look forward to. But for now, sit back, relax and enjoy this trip through the realms of yesteryear, as we explore the other two times these Texas rivals met in the postseason.
1988: No. 3 Mavericks vs. No. 6 Rockets, Dallas won series 3-1
Dallas was only an 8-year-old NBA franchise in 1988. Until the Mavs won the NBA championship 23 years later, the 1987-88 season was the best in franchise history. This was the year Dallas made the Western Conference Finals for the first time ever, before losing to the Magic Johnson-led Lakers in seven games. But before they got there, Dallas had to take out a young Houston team that was on the rise, led by a young phenom named Hakeem Olajuwon.
If you're not familiar with the Mavericks of the '80s, this is the best way to describe them: They had every ounce of talent in the world to beat any team, but never had enough in the tank to put the great teams away. They had five players average double figures in scoring that season, led by Mark Aguirre's 25.1 points per game. That team also had Derek Harper, Rolando Blackman, Sam Perkins and Roy Tarpley. They were stacked.
Dallas had home court advantage coming into the first round, back when it used to be a best-of-five series. The first two games were split at Reunion Arena before heading to Compaq Center. In Game 3, Tarpley scored six of his 17 points in the final minutes, and Olajuwon missed a potential shot at the buzzer for a 93-92 win, giving Dallas a 2-1 series lead. The Mavs finished the series off two nights later in Houston with a 107-97 win thanks to 38 points from Aguirre.
A couple of things to note here. Hakeem Olajuwon went freaking nuts in this series. Even though his team was bounced in four games, Dallas didn't have an answer for him. Hakeem averaged 37.5 points and 16.8 rebounds in FOUR games. He scored 40 points twice, including in Game 4 while carrying the Rockets on his back, but the rest of the team couldn't buy a basket. Other than a 42-point performance in Game 2 by Sleepy Floyd (in which Houston won), the Rockets didn't get contribution from anyone else.
After this series, both franchises went on completely different paths. The Rockets won back-to-back championships in the '90s behind Olajuwon, and Dallas lived in the land of obscurity for the entire decade. It would be 17 years before these two would meet again. This time in more epic fashion.
2005: No. 4 Mavericks vs. No. 5 Rockets, Dallas won series 4-3
If you know any ounce of Mavericks history, you know about this series in its entirety.
If you need a refresher, I will direct you to this.
Remember now? Okay, then.
That one dunk signified an entire series. If anything, it definitely signified the first two games, when Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming's Rockets went into Dallas and took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Houston manhandled Dallas in Game 1 before edging out the Mavs in Game 2 behind a McGrady game-winner with about a second to go.
Dallas returned the favor in Houston in Games 3 and 4 to even the series at 2-2, with both wins being decided by four points each. After shooting a combined 13-of-40 in the first two games, Dirk Nowitzki woke up in Game 3 to score 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting and made all 10 free throws to give Dallas a 106-102 win. And to top it off, Dallas went on an 18-0 fourth quarter run starting with 8:14 remaining in that game. Two nights later, Jason Terry scored 32 points and hit the game-clinching 3-pointer with 26.9 seconds left for a 97-93 win. Dirk had another bad shooting night, shooting an abysmal 4-of-14.
With home court advantage completely neutralized, the Mavericks came back home in Game 5 and won 103-100 despite leading by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter. Michael Finley got away with a huge no-call late in the game, after he grabbed a rebound and was clearly standing out of bounds, but the refs didn't see it. Jerry Stackhouse made two clutch free throws and Dallas took a 3-2 lead in the series. Despite Houston's blowout in Game 6, Dallas appeared to have all the momentum going to Game 7. The Mavs finally won at home and looked as if they had the Rockets right where they wanted them.
Then this happened.
You have to understand this from my point of view. At the time of this game, I was 12 years old, about to turn 13. I watched this game in its entirety. I didn't understand the magnitude of this game until I got much older.
Watch that video, and you see an avalanche of epic proportions the likes of which wasn't seen until Game 4 against the Lakers in 2011. Shots kept falling, Dallas' defense was the best it has been in decades. Even former Mavericks all-time great Mike James got ejected in the second half because Darrell Armstrong was such a pest. Unfortunately, since he did play some games with Dallas, this is not the only part attached to his Mavericks legacy.
The final score: Dallas 116, Houston 76. The Mavericks won the series in seven games, and the Rockets blew a 2-0 lead after winning the first two games in Dallas. The Mavs would lose to the Steve Nash-led Suns in the next round, but this series had all the drama you could possibly want, culminating in this thrashing of epic proportions. Every Dallas Maverick (including Alan Henderson, Erick Dampier and Shawn Bradley) scored in Game 7. How bad was Houston's supporting cast that night? Yao and T-Mac combined for 60 of Houston's 76 points. Those two combined to make 23 shots, and the rest of the Rockets made six.
By Game 5, it was all over. You just knew going into that game that Dallas wasn't losing. Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins, who called Game 7, even knew there was no chance of Houston winning. They let the crowd tell the story of that game, and the American Airlines Center crowd was not going to let the Rockets leave that game alive.
It's different this time around. Houston is the team with home court advantage, and Dallas is the one who has to try and shock the world. It should most certainly be an entertaining series.